Ephesus in an Uproar

Expect resistance when you tell the truth but don’t stop telling the truth.

Please read Acts 19:23-41 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) for these remarks.

Riot at Ephesus

Think for a moment about the biggest crowd you can remember being part of at a sporting facility.  For those of us in Sioux Falls, SD, that would likely be at Howard Wood Field.  Can you recall the noise, the jostling, the energy of 10,000 people crammed into those stands? The amphitheater in the ancient city of Ephesus held more than twice that many people.  That’s a crowd!

The most seating that has ever been available at Howard Wood was 16,500, when bleachers were borrowed from local colleges and moved there.  On August 5, 1960, the Dallas Cowboys and Minnesota Vikings played the very first game in the history of the Vikings at Howard Wood Field.  A ticket to the game cost $5.50 unless you sat in the borrowed bleachers and paid $3.50.  The extra seating would prove to be entirely unnecessary as the attendance that day was under 5,000.  The promoters lost their shirts and the Vikings lost their game, but Sioux Falls will always be the weird beginning to a storied sports team.

This morning we will take a look at a page from the history of the ancient city of Ephesus.  It was a similar comedy of errors to the only attempt to bring NFL football to Sioux Falls.  The tale has a dark side, however, being a clear threat to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the people who held if forth as truth.

  1. Change is hard; greed is harder (vs. 23-27).

“THE WAY” (verse 23) is how Christians of that time referred to themselves.  It is not to be confused with a modern day cult “the Way International.”  Then as in our own time, the word WAY referred to a person’s daily choices that reflected the direction they were headed.  It might also be described as a life goal, mission, or number one priority.

The instigator of the riot was Demetrius, who made his living crafting and selling souvenirs!  You heard me right.  He made little replicas of the massive Temple to Artemis, goddess of wild plants and animals, hunting, chastity and childbirth.  The temple was the major tourist attraction in the city.  She was beloved so Demetrius and his fellows made A “GOOD INCOME” (verse 25) on his souvenirs.

So what’s the problem?  Look back at verse 20 where it is written, THE WORD OF THE LORD SPREAD WIDELY AND GREW IN POWER.  Demetrius apparently felt that Paul’s teaching was a threat.  One, Paul’s teaching had converted “LARGE NUMBERS OF PEOPLE.”  When you are growing, people are more likely to consider you a threat and more likely to oppose you.  In v. 26 he said “PRACTICALLY THE WHOLE PROVINCE OF ASIA” was listening to Paul’s teaching.  By his own words, Demetrius, a “hostile witness” gauged the influence of the Church in Asia.        In verse 27 he said that Artemis was “WORSHIPED THROUGHOUT THE PROVINCE OF ASIA,” corresponding to Paul’s area of influence.

He was concerned that not only would business suffer, but also that the temple and the goddess would be “DISCREDITED.” (27)  After all, if people are leaving the goddess to follow Paul’s God, then that implies Artemis is the lesser divinity.  His reference to the WORLD is no exaggeration; archaeologists have uncovered temples to Artemis all over the ancient Roman world.

Demetrius may be sincere in his concern for the temple and for the city, but it seems more likely he was concerned about his wallet.  I say this because if he was concerned about the city, he’d have followed legal procedures as the CITY CLERK suggested (38-39).  Starting a riot is the kind of thing done by a greedy person without a legal leg to stand on.

That’s why Demetrius sought to inflame passion against Paul by accusing him of some awful misdeeds.  He accused Paul of leading people astray (26), telling them scandalous things like “MAN-MADE GODS ARE NO GODS AT ALL.”  He vilified Paul for “discrediting” Artemis and robbing her of her divine majesty (27).

  1. The riot resulted in confusion (vs. 28-32).

Luke described it as A GREAT COMMOTION (23), an example of the understated way things are typically described in the Bible.  The Bible writers didn’t exaggerate; they didn’t need to.

We start with the reaction of the members of the guild of silversmiths to the charges Demetrius made.  They were FURIOUS and BEGAN SHOUTING about how great Artemis was until they wound the whole city into an UPROAR.

Another measure of the commotion is the actions of the mob in verses 29-30: they SIEZED GAIUS AND ARISTARCHUS, who must have been widely known as Paul’s associates.  Don’t suppose they were treated gently.

They RUSHED AS ONE MAN INTO THE THEATER, probably intent on making “examples” of these two men.  I remind you the theater in Ephesus seated 24,000 people.  It was undoubtedly the biggest venue in the city.  It was not used for dramas only, but also for civic events of all kinds.

This concerted rush in a single direction implies that the events were unfolding as planned.  What happened was a riot but it wasn’t spontaneous, at least at the beginning.  Ending up in the theater was strategic.  This is what we’d call a “publicity stunt.”

To his credit, Paul wanted to APPEAR BEFORE THE CROWD, either to talk them out of rash actions or offer himself in exchange for his companions (30-31).  This was not empty posturing; Paul had to be restrained by other followers of Jesus.  OFFICIALS OF THE PROVINCE also weighed in to convince Paul not to go.  This tells us not only that Paul had FRIENDS in high places, but also that the riot must have gone on for some time for all these people to get involved.

The result was CONFUSION and is almost comical.  People were shouting different things, just to make noise.  Some came to the riot late and didn’t know what it was all about, but they were ready to join a protest.  Who doesn’t like a good tar and feathering?

Pity poor Alexander, suddenly chosen to be “front man” for the local Jewish community (33-34).  Some of the people at the riot were Jews and they thought Alexander might get the mob to calm down.   (They were among the confused!)  Alexander was game, but his attempts to MAKE A DEFENSE of Paul, who was born a Jew, were merely shouted down by the crowd.  These Greeks weren’t going to let a Jew tell them how to run t city.

Though it may sound strange that people in a 24,000 seat amphitheater would take up a common shout and do so for TWO HOURS, it was actually fairly common in that culture.  They called these rhythmic chants, shouts, and noises acclamatio, from which we get our English word “acclaim.”

  1. A wise man quieted the riot (vs. 35-41).

Where Alexander failed, the unnamed CITY CLERK succeeded; he QUIETED THE CROWD and got them to listen for a time (35).  While the title CITY CLERK may sound a little nerdy, this man was the chief link between the Roman Empire and the city administrators.  He wielded great power.  This is why the people were willing to listen to him and why they heeded his words.

His wise arguments convinced the CROWD.  We can see four parts of his rhetoric.

First he appealed to their pride in a positive way (35-36).  He cited as UNDENIABLE FACTS that the temple in Ephesus was the greatest in the ancient world because the goddess herself flung the massive silver image in the middle of the temple to earth and the temple was built around it. This was, of course, a myth, not a fact, but the CITY CLERK used both savvy and mythology to remind the people that the city had nothing to prove.

He effectively said, “Demetrius and his guild are wrong; there is no danger to this temple.  It is divinely protected and too big to fail.”

Since the temple was in no danger, there was no need for all this noise (“BE QUIET”) or to do anything RASH.

Second, he asserted that Gaius and Aristarchus were not criminals (37).  These statements were true.  He said, “THEY HAVE NEITHER ROBBED TEMPLES NOR BLASPHEMED THE GODDESS.”  At that time, robbing temples and committing blasphemy were serious crimes, punishable by death or exile.  This was the truth: Paul’s associates had committed no crime against the temple or the city.  Instead, they were being used as scapegoats by the mob.

Third, the clerk insisted that the rule of law be followed, not rule by the mob (38-39).  Notice that he knew exactly who was responsible for all this trouble and called him out: “DEMETRIUS AND HIS FELLOW CRAFTSMEN.”  This was a subtle warning: should the ax of punishment fall, it would fall on Demetrius and his cronies.

His point was that there were legal and reasonable ways to settle a grievance fairly, ways that would produce good results.  I imagine he had sympathy with Demetrius’ concerns, especially the economic ones.  However, to his credit, this man stood up for justice.

Fourth, he warned there would be negative consequences if the rioters continued to make this COMMOTION (40).  In the Roman Empire, where riots occurred, imperial legions would not be far behind.

No one in local government wanted Rome to step in and put the city under military rule.  This very thing happened at least once in Roman history.  In 20 BC the city of Cyzicus allowed some Roman citizens to be put to death in a riot.  They lost their city government because of it.  This is no idle threat.  If the empire heard about the COMMOTION and called him to account for it, the clerk would have to say, “THERE IS NO REASON FOR IT.”

His wise arguments apparently persuaded the people; HE DISMISSED THE ASSEMBLY (41) and that’s all we hear about it.

Though this passage has some goofy elements to it, the dark truth behind it is this: Expect opposition to the truth.  We’d like to think being a follower of Jesus should be the end to our troubles.  We’d like to think being truthful will eventually be recognized, maybe applauded.

These thoughts do not come from the Bible.  Jesus Himself said, “IN THIS WORLD YOU WILL HAVE TROUBLE.  BUT TAKE HEART!  I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD.” (John 16:33)

Naturally we’d rather stand in the arena to enjoy the cheers of the crowd.  We’d rather not be Gaius or Aristarchus, who were stood before the jeering thousands of Ephesus.  We wouldn’t like to be Alexander and have to face the crowd that shouts us down.  Success will not spare us the opposition of sinful people; it will likely invite more.

So what is our hope?  Our hope is Jesus.  “I HAVE OVERCOME THE WORLD” is His promise and our hope.  Nothing in this world – neither its acclaim nor its opposition – should move our hope anywhere else.

 

RESOURCE:

Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Acts, Eckhard J. Schnabel

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One OR Done

Please take a moment apart from your busy-ness to read Ephesians 2:11-22 in your Bible. I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

Unity in the church is not a luxury; it is a necessity.

ichabod

One of the best meetings I ever attended was at an elementary school.  The principal had called a meeting to discuss how our community might to meet the needs of a family whose poverty was causing the children to fail in school.  I had been invited to attend because the mother had identified me as her pastor.  I was to bring to the table whatever means our church could offer to support them.

What pleased me so much was the positivity of the meeting.  Without any pretense, compliments and praise and gratitude flowed like a river.  It was contagious; I found myself looking for praise-worthy things so I could join in the fun of being positive.

The other thing that set this meeting above all others was the focus of the group.  We all wanted to help.  School faculty and staff, counselors, social workers, and I were compiling all the forms of assistance we could offer in order to keep t kids in school.

Afterward, I was hit with a pang of jealousy.  It occurred to me that in all the meetings I had attended for church functions, I had never attended as pleasing a meeting.  It was a secular meeting in a secular place, joining people who may have had little or no agreement about God but it shone above all the meetings that supposedly had those advantages.

It may help us to know that God expects us to be in unity and gives us all we need to experience it.  Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus and set forth God’s standard.

  1. Without Christ we are separate from God and from one another.

The Ephesians were Gentiles when Paul wrote these words; GENTILES AND UNCIRCUMCISED, EXCLUDED FROM CITIZENSHIP IN ISRAEL (11-12) but because of Jesus, that distinction no longer mattered.  Where birth, ethnicity, and nationality once divided the saved from the unsaved, Jesus came to save everyone.  Contrast these strong words describing division with Paul’s promise in v. 19 that all who believe in Jesus are FELLOW CITIZENS.

Before Christ, being Gentile meant you were WITHOUT HOPE AND WITHOUT GOD IN THE WORLD (12).  Without Jesus, people have to live in the present without HOPE for the future or God’s grace to forgive their past sins.  To be hopeless and godless is horrible; it ought to frighten us into having faith instead.

  1. Jesus acted to make us one. (He did five things.)

ONE = Jesus sacrificed Himself.  God did it THROUGH THE BLOOD OF CHRIST (13) and THROUGH THE CROSS (16).  Jesus’ death on the cross paid the penalty for every person’s sins.  Since it has been bought at so great a price, we show our gratitude when cherish our unity and protect it, rather than toss it.

TWO = He became OUR PEACE (14+15) and HE CAME AND PREACHED PEACE (17).  Unity brings peace and is threatened when the peace is disturbed.  Jesus’ presence gives us peace.

These verses agree with Matthew 5:9; “BLESSED ARE THE PEACEMAKERS, FOR THEY WILL BE CALLED SONS OF GOD.”  God’s children are characterized as being peacemakers.  They will make sacrifices and have courage in bringing people together.

THREE = He DESTROYED THE BARRIER, THE DIVIDING WALL OF HOSTILITY (14) and HE PUT TO DEATH THEIR HOSTILITY (16).  On a historical level, this is another way of describing the Jew vs. Gentile dynamic.

On a personal level, we know that unity cannot be found when people have divided into opposing camps.  Unity brings people together, destroying barriers/walls, not putting them up.

FOUR = He abolished IN HIS FLESH THE LAW WITH ITS COMMANDS AND REGULATIONS. (15)  This verse parallels Paul’s earlier teaching about the BLOOD of Jesus and the CROSS: Jesus’ physical death abolished the Law by meeting all its demands.  He was the perfect sacrifice for sin and thereby brought an end to the need for any sacrifice for sin.

As the Law is part of what kept Gentiles and Jews separated (the Jews had it, the Gentiles didn’t), this verse parallels vs. 11+12.  Jesus’ sacrifice made this division inappropriate, bringing us all together in one family and citizens of one kingdom (v. 19).

FIFTH = He IS THE CHIEF CORNERSTONE …IN HIM THE WHOLE BUILDING IS JOINED TOGETHER. (21)  (We will talk about this later.)

  1. Descriptions of our unity.

The first benefit of unity is obvious: unity brings us together!  Paul wrote, YOU WHO WERE FAR AWAY HAVE BEEN BROUGHT NEAR. (13+17)  No matter what measure you use to describe the distance, it no longer exists.  The worldly things that ensure separation lose their significance in Jesus and are no longer a reason for keeping us apart.

God’s unity effectively makes us ONE. (14+15)  This verse reminds me of the statements made in the Bible about marriage (see Genesis 2:24 & Mark 10:7); the two persons becoming one.  Ideally in married life, the partners are to think and act as one.  So it should also be in a church. This is Jesus’ PURPOSE: He has worked to make us unified.  We are to receive it, then avoid breaking the unity God gives.

Jesus brought us together so that IN THIS ONE BODY (His) He aimed TO RECONCILE BOTH OF THEM TO GOD. (16)  Unity is both the product of and the means to reconciliation.  Jesus’ greatest purpose is our union with God.  That must happen first. Then, the degree to which to which we have union with God, we will experience unity in our church.

A second benefit of unity is that it empowers our prayers.  In Matthew 18:19 Jesus promised, “I TELL YOU THAT IF TWO OF YOU ON EARTH AGREE ABOUT ANYTHING YOU ASK FOR, IT WILL BE DONE FOR YOU BY MY FATHER IN HEAVEN.”  Here in 2:18, Paul explained how we have that kind of power in prayer: THROUGH HIM WE HAVE ACCESS TO THE FATHER BY ONE SPIRIT. (18)

The word ACCESS refers to prayer.  It is having a means of communicating with a king.  As Romans 8:26-27 teaches, the Holy Spirit facilitates prayer.  Even when we don’t know how to pray, the Spirit makes prayer happen; effective communication with God occurs.

The third benefit to unity is belonging: We are a holy nation, the Kingdom of God.  As Paul expressed it here: YOU ARE NO LONGER FOREIGNERS and ALIENS, BUT FELLOW CITIZENS.  And YOU ARE…FELLOW CITIZENS WITH GOD’S PEOPLE AND MEMBERS OF GOD’S HOUSEHOLD. (19)  CITIZENS have a responsibility to respect one another in civility and keeping the law.  More than that, Christians are GOD’S PEOPLE AND MEMBERS OF GOD’S HOUSEHOLD; having relationships deeper than citizenship.

Put another way, we are God’s temple, the people among whom He dwells.  GOD’S HOUSEHOLD is BUILT ON THE FOUNDATION OF THE  APOSTLES AND PROPHETS. (20)  Paul also referred to A CORNERSTONE in vs. 21, which is the most honored part of a building because it is a symbol of the actual and moral foundations on which the building was built.  In ancient times, it was also the first part of the building erected.

The rest of the building was measured and built around the fixed point of the CORNERSTONE.  In these senses, Jesus is the origin and the most honored part of the church.

In verse 21 Paul wrote that the Church people are A HOLY TEMPLE IN THE LORD.  Similarly, in 1 Peter 2:4-5, Peter described the Church as being made up of LIVING STONES.  Just as it takes many bricks to create a structure, every church is made up of several individual persons coming together.  A stack of bricks is not a building.  It is only when the pieces are put together with Jesus they become a place on earth fit for God.

Paul expressed this truth a third way in verse 22: YOU ARE…A DWELLING IN WHICH GOD LIVES BY HIS SPIRIT.  God created the Church for many different reasons.  However, we must remember that necessity is not one of those reasons.  He does not need a place to live but He wants a people in a place that give evidence to the world that He exists and He loves all people. To be a church we have to do more than maintain physical property; we have to BE the people of God in this place.  We have to cherish and protect the unity God gives us.

You’ve heard the expression “one and done” used in sports.  When teams compete in a single-elimination tournament and are eliminated by losing their first game, we say they were “one and done.”

I want to suggest a variation on that slogan that puts the importance of unity in its biblical perspective.  Based on this passage and others, I say “One OR Done.”  This means that we are ONE as a church or we DONE being a church.  A local body of believers that perpetuates disunity has ceased to be a church and has become something else, something less than what God has commanded.

Unity is a precious gift from God.  It is worth every sacrifice, every effort, every slice of humble pie or crow we have to eat to maintain it.

Unity is a precious gift from God.  It is worth defending against every pretender, peace-breaker, and offender of the cross.

Unity is received, not achieved.  We partner with God when we protect our unity because without it we cannot be a church.

Unity in the church is not a luxury; it is a necessity.

 

RESOURCE USED:

Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold

Evil Spirits, Good Results

Please read Acts 19:13-20 in your preferred version of the Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) for my own research.evil vs Jesus

Evil never creates; it only confuses and perverts the truth.  When it is conquered, the word prospers.

In our house lately we’ve been enjoying TV specials titled “Breaking the Magician’s Code: Magic’s Biggest Secrets Finally Revealed,” originally broadcast in the 90s.  (Yes, we’re behind in watching our TV programs.)  In each show, the “Masked Magician” performed magic tricks and then showed how the illusion was made.

This show was an example of “reality TV,” two words that don’t belong together in a sentence.  Part of the gag is that this magician was masked to protect his identity from vengeful fellow magicians.  In the last of the specials, he removed the mask to reveal himself to be Val Valentino, a man who’d been a stage magician all his adult life.

This is an example of magic being simply deception and illusion.  Whether for fun or profit, to entertain or deceive, there have always been people who used the hand to trick the eye and the person.

In our passage today, we read about some con artists who attempted to incorporate the name of Jesus into their act.  They were as surprised as anyone when a genuine evil spirit exposed them as false.

God used this extraordinary event to reach the people of Ephesus and Asia Minor in a very unique way.  It’s not only a great story, but an event that reveals several things we need to learn and practice.

  1. Sceva’s sons learned the hard way. (13-16)

We learn that they were just name-droppers (13-14).  Before we go there, let’s take a brief look at “Jewish Mysticism.”  As many cultures do, Jewish people have myths and superstitions.  These have varying degrees of relatedness to Scripture.

In Paul’s day, some Jews made a living going from town to town performing magical services based on these superstitions.  (I suspect you’d have to be ITINERANT just to stay ahead of being found out!)  The Ephesians were especially superstitious.  For example, they believed if you knew the name of a spirit you could control it.  To, as the text says, EVOKE THE NAME refers to an incantation or magic formula using “power names” to make spells effective.  Though this may sound strange or our ears, there is some NT mention of this activity:

-Jesus referred to Jewish exorcists sent out by the Pharisees in Luke 11:19 (Matthew 12:27).

– In Luke 10 He sent out 72 of His disciples to cast out demons & do other kinds of ministry.

– In Acts 16:18, Paul cast a demon out of a woman in Philippi while invoking the name of Jesus.

What’s happening in our passage is some of these people heard the name of Jesus had been powerfully used by Paul (the healings in vs. 11+12), so they gave it a try.  They didn’t possess the faith that made the miracles possible, but that didn’t stop them from trying.

The text tells us all we need to know about Sceva and sons.  The name “Sceva” is neither Hebrew nor Greek; it is a misspelled Latin word that meant “left-handed” or “a good omen.”  If their father was a JEWISH CHIEF PRIEST they would be members of one of the families from whom the Romans chose to be the Jews’ chief priests.  (The Romans had politicized the office, making it no longer hereditary.  Their theory was that shuffling the high priest job would keep any one man from becoming too influential.)  The combination of a claimed Jewish nobility and a Latinate name is unlikely to have been genuine; it implies these were con men.  They probably weren’t really related!

The seven sons of Sceva failed spectacularly: ONE DAY, an evil spirit exposed their falsehood (15-16).  Evil beings that exist as spiritual beings are also called demons.  The Bible attests to the existence of these beings.  No one can deny the reality of demons and claim to believe everything else the Bible teaches.

THE EVIL SPIRIT spoke through its human host and verified the identities of Jesus and Paul but didn’t have any idea who these frauds were; “WHO ARE YOU?” it asked.  The power, then, was not in the names of Jesus and Paul.  The power to cast out demons came from Jesus’ identity as God the Son and His delegating authority to Paul as His servant.

It exposed them as frauds.  Adding injury to insult, the seven suffered public humiliation and a whuppin’.  Though outnumbered seven to one, the demon-possessed man OVERPOWERED the sons of Sceva and sent them running out of the house, embarrassed and injured.  This can hardly be accounted for by normal means, so a supernatural force is implied.  The demon gave the possessed man unusual physical strength and/or overwhelming savagery.

  1. As a result, the word grew in influence & power. (17-20)

As you would expect, news of an incident like this got around very quickly = THIS BECAME KNOWN TO THE JEWS AND GREEKS LIVING IN EPHESUS.  THEY WERE ALL SIEZED WITH FEAR = It was taken very seriously.  Our text list four effects.

The first effect is that this cured the “magic-using community” of name-dropping (17).  Instead, THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS WAS HELD IN HIGH HONOR.  People respected the name of Jesus, no longer attempting to use it merely as a “magic word.”  (Too bad that didn’t happen for Mr. Al Akazam!)  People realized that the NAME OF THE LORD JESUS held power, but it was neither the kind of power they could manipulate, nor the kind to be trifled with!  The phrase HELD IN HIGH HONOR means “glorified.”  This implies worship of Jesus by people who converted to the Christian faith; as befits verse eighteen.

The second effect: confession of EVIL DEEDS (18).  The new converts confessed to having committed EVIL DEEDS.  Our text describes conversions in general terms in verse eighteen while verse nineteen offers an example of a specific act of repentance that put a value on the depth of their repentance.

The third effect was their voluntary decision to burn “magic” scrolls  that had great material value but were spiritually worthless (19).  The Lord does not require a set procedure for repentance.  That’s a good thing, as we are saved by GRACE, not by GOOD WORKS.  We are not operating under a legal system that requires specific actions to qualify as “true repentance.”  It is also good because it shows the collection and burning of these SCROLLS was spontaneous and voluntary, which makes the act a more effective demonstration of repentance.

The actions of the converts in verse nineteen set a good example for us to follow when repenting.  Repentance is turning our back on our sin and turning our face to God.  We regret and reject our sins to seek God instead.  Getting rid of the things that tempt us to return to sin and/or things that represent affections for worldly things is a good idea, and it accomplishes three things:

– First, it removes a source of temptation.  Jesus spoke of removing one’s right eye or hand if they cause you to sin (Matthew 5:27-30).  This is a graphic way of describing a grave degree of sacrifice in order to gain separation from temptations.

– Second, when a person makes voluntary sacrifices like this, it says a lot about the depth of their commitment to Jesus.

– Third, making it public makes you accountable to everyone who sees what you are doing and will be watching in the future to see you don’t fall into that sin again.

Luke estimated the value of the destroyed texts to be 50,000 drachmas, or the wealth accumulated by a year’s work (no days off) of 137 men.  This was a sacrifice!

The long-term effect was that the word prospered (20).  People travelling out of Ephesus carried along the account of the demoniac beating the tar out of seven con artists and other testimonies to the POWER of the WORD OF THE LORD.  That’s how it SPREAD WIDELY.

As the number of new converts continued to grow and their faith deepened, the WORD also GREW IN POWER.  This also means there were more events of this type.

Evil never creates; it only confuses and perverts the truth.  When it is conquered, the word prospers.

It’s a fact that things aren’t always as they appear.  Consider what happened when two magicians went into a bakery.

One of the magicians palmed 3 donuts with one hand and put them in his pocket without anyone noticing. He whispered to his companion, “Do you see how masterful I am? I make donuts disappear at will!”

“Not bad,” the second magician said.  “I can do you one better.”  He went to the baker and asked if he wanted to see a magic trick.

The curious owner answered, “Of course!” The second magician asked him for a donut then ate it. He asked him for another one, and ate it as well. When asked for a third donut, the owner was reluctant to give it up.  “So what’s the magic trick?” he said with suspicion; “I gave you 2 donuts already!”

“Just one more,” he replied.  After eating the third donut, the magician pointed to his companion and said, “Now check his pockets.”

Our Bible passage this morning gives us a memorable example of how God turned what was intended for deception into a victory for His Church.  When we live as the people of faith we are supposed to be, God works in us and with us to turn all things into good.

While we may not do the miraculous things done in Ephesus, God will use our faith and service to draw people to salvation.  It starts with our decision to be entirely faithful, willing to trust Him in this promise.

 

RESOURCES:

More Hard Sayings of the New Testament, Peter H. Davids.

Illustrated Davis Dictionary of the Bible.

The Communicator’s Commentary, Lloyd J. Ogilive.

Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold

Lively Former Corpses

no-zombies

(This image saved from http://www.allposters.com.br/-sp/No-Zombies-Allowed-Sign-Plastic-Sign-posters_i9896033_.htm.)

Please read Ephesians 2:1-10 in your Bible.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

Sin is the cause of the “Walking Dead,” God raises the dead to receive salvation and life.

It’s a free country (at least at the moment) where everyone’s entitled to indulge their interests as they see fit.  However, speaking solely for myself, I don’t understand the popularity of zombies.  What had been for decade a minor sub-genre of horror, zombies have grown in popularity and become big business. For example, in 2011, NBC news estimated Americans spent $5 million on zombie entertainment products.

Money is one numerical way to gauge popularity.  In our time, another way to assess trends and objectively gauge popularity is to track internet searches.  I found some data that is seven years old – a eternity in pop culture – but I found the popularity of the undead has been growing since 2010.  By this measure, West Virginia was the state most interested in zombies, with South Dakota being tenth most interested.

When something becomes this popular, people want to explain why it has become so big.  The most obvious reason for the popularity of zombies is people’s fascination with things that are horrible, gross, and evil.  It’s like going to a hockey game hoping for a fight or a race hoping for a spectacular wreck.

A less obvious reason is that zombies don’t require a lot of thinking or feeling.  Their motivations are simple and the response of the living is simple.  We all want life to be less complicated.  Watching this stuff may require a stout gag reflex, but it won’t challenge your brains too much.

Some internet commentators want to dive more deeply into the zombie phenomenon and see zombies as being symbols of what’s wrong with modern American culture.  Or modern Americans.

Which interests me because today’s Scripture passage employs a symbol not unlike zombies.  Please read that correctly.  I am not attempting to legitimize “zombie culture” or say that it is in any way biblical.  I’m simply pointing out that Paul depicts life without Jesus Christ as dead people walking.

“BC” (Before Christ) persons have a form of life, but have no real life.  They are in bondage to forces beyond their control.  In the real world, people can be saved from zombie-like living, but only God can do it.  In this zombie-like state, they are insensitive to God, blindly pursuing just about any else instead.

  1. We were dead in our sin. (1-5)

We were “dead men walking” in ungodliness. (1+5)  Literally and metaphorically, DEAD means separated from life, which is found only in God (see Colossians 2:13).  In this passage, Paul uses death as a metaphor for a spiritual condition; a person as unconscious and unresponsive to the word and will of God as a dead person is unresponsive to everything.

The words TRANSGRESSIONS and SINS are two words for the same thing: the cause of our spiritual death.  In Romans 5:17 Paul explained this spiritual death is part of the curse of being Adam’s children but in Romans 6:23 he wrote that it’s our own fault because of the sins we chose to commit.  Adam’s sin brought death into the world, but we have condemned ourselves by our own choices to bring it into our personal experience.

We were “under the influence” of three masters.

#1 – We were following the WAYS O/T WORLD (1).  We were under the influence of the culture around us; bowing to peer pressure, fashion, and media without questioning whether the popular thing was the right thing.  The WAYS OF THIS AGE (2) is an equivalent expression.  Both refer to this present time; between the creation of this world and the world to come.  Both terms refer to a culture that has aligned itself against God (see John 15:18-19 and 1 Corinthians 3:19) and antagonizes those who truly want to love and serve Him.

#2 – We were serving Satan. (2)  We were under the influence of our Enemy, Satan, the RULER OF THE KINGDOM OF THE AIR.  He was tempting us and sending trials our way to distract and discourage us.

Paul is in agreement with John’s Gospel that Satan is the RULER of the worldly systems that oppose God (see John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11).  THE AIR describes the sphere of Satan’s influence; it covers the earth but falls short of heaven.  This language reflects Jewish belief that demons flew in the air and the pagan belief that evil spirits flew around.  In both Hebrew and Greek the word for SPIRIT can also be translated as “wind”.  The influence of the spiritual evil ruled by Satan is expressed in NOW AT WORK IN THOSE WHO ARE DISOBEDIENT.

#3 – We were serving selfishness. (3)  We were under the influence of self-centeredness; an orientation typical to humans.  When we are very immature, a certain amount of self-centeredness helps us survive and grow.  But as we mature, we must become God-centered, discarding childish and selfish ways.

Paul used the term SINFUL NATURE (“flesh”) to denote the part of our inner nature that has an appetite for doing wrong.  It is one way self-centredness manifests itself.  It is like a separate entity within a person that constantly tempts and misdirects us away from God and toward sin.

My belief is that the SINFUL NATURE is the part of our inner life that was CRUCIFIED WITH CHRIST (GLS 2:20) and no longer lives.  This extreme selfishness that seeks satisfaction through sin no longer affects the believer because it is dead.  We still struggle with sin because our human nature is with us in the form of our bodies.  Human nature is more oriented to self-centeredness than sin; it is not always encouraging evil actions.  Human nature is more the weakness and limitations imposed by our physical frame than a frequent source of sin.

The result of the influence of the “Three S’s”: we were OBJECTS OF WRATH. (3)  WRATH means two things.

In the short term, it means alienation from God.  Until forgiveness is obtained by repentance, prayer is useless.  God will not tolerate sin and will distance Himself from sinners.

In the long term, God’s WRATH will be poured out on the wicked and unbelieving on Judgment Day.  Their choices will land them in hell.

The phrase LIKE THE REST is meant to take in the entirety of humanity.  All of us are born under a death penalty because we inherited a sin nature from Adam.  God’s unique solution to the problem of sin is Jesus substitutionary sacrifice on the cross and it alone is effective to solve the problem of sin.

  1. We live because God gave us grace. (4-10)

Grace is the answer to the problem of sin.  We can approach our need for grace by asking three questions Paul answered for us.  The first is this, “What did God do for us?”

God the Father MADE US ALIVE WITH CHRIST. (5)  This is the key thought of the passage. This one verb (the Greek word is 14 letters long) supplies the main action for the passage: resurrection.  The change wrought in us by salvation is so dramatic and so complete that it feels like a dead person being raised to life again.  On the one hand, death is an apt symbol for life without Jesus.  Before Christ, we are as lifeless and hopeless as a pile of bones.  On the other hand, with Jesus, we are saved; the bones come to life again: we have hope and a future.

GOD also RAISED US UP WITH CHRIST. (6)  Paul saw the believer as having participated in the crucifixion of Jesus, to the effect of his/her sin nature being killed.  This phrase takes things a step further to say each believer has participated personally in the resurrection of Jesus too.

GOD…SEATED US WITH HIM IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS IN CHRIST JESUS. (6)  Here Paul makes it sound as if we’ve already been taken to heaven.  We have to learn not to get too wound up about verb tenses in the Bible.  Instead, we can be excited to know that the benefits of God’s GRACE are not just for the future, but have also redeemed our past and give us a confident future.  We can have experiences of heaven in this earthly life (see 1 Corinthians 15:47-49; 2 Corinthians 12:2-3; Galatians 4:26; Philippians 3:20).

In 1:20 we learned that Jesus was exalted to sit in the place of authority and access; at the RIGHT HAND IN THE HEAVENLY REALMS.   Paul repeated that language here to give the faithful further encouragement; “Heaven?  You are there already, dudes!”  Especially in Ephesus, he wanted the believers to know they were not subject to spiritual evil of any kind; they already enjoyed heavenly authority being in relationship with Jesus Christ.

Lastly, Paul reminded them of their origins; WE ARE GOD’S WORKMANSHIP. (10)  This word could just as easily serve as part of the answer to the next question.  God acted to save us because we are His.  But it is also part of the list of things God has done for us – He created us.  The word WORKMANSHIP could just as easily be translated “creation.”  However, the word also conveys skill, intelligence and achievement in execution, like “masterpiece,” “handiwork,” or “work of art.”

Verse ten is a counterpoint to verse nine: verse nine says we are saved by GRACE, not by WORKS, which would seem to render WORKS unimportant.  Verse ten reveals that WORKS do play an important role in life after salvation.  In fact, they are the very reason God created us.  We were CREATED IN CHRIST JESUS TO DO GOOD WORKS, so a well-spent life was part of God’s plan before the universe was created.  This interpretation is supported by a second phrase that means exactly the same thing: WHICH GOD PREPARED IN ADVANCE FOR US TO DO.

When we consider all of Paul’s teaching, we realize two things about GOOD WORKS.  One, GOOD WORKS is not the same as fulfilling the Law.  Instead, Paul meant for us to do things fulfilling the Law of Love and demonstrating the Fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) in everyday words and deeds (1 Thessalonians 1:3).  Two, God chose both His people and how His people would behave.  This is what Paul wrote in 1:4; HE CHOSE US IN HIM BEFORE THE CREATION OF THE WORLD TO BE HOLY AND BLAMELESS IN HIS SIGHT.

Paul’s second answer is to this question, “Why would God save such creatures?”  When you take notice the descriptive words in v. 4, GREAT love…RICH mercy…INCOMPARABLE RICHES of grace, it is clear God is generous with His people!

God showed us grace BECAUSE OF HIS GREAT LOVE. (4)  LOVE is the word that best summarizes the character of God in BOTH Old and New Testaments.

His LOVE is unconditional, positive, and always moves us toward greater good and maturity.

We have been offered GRACE because GOD…IS RICH IN MERCY. (4)  The merciful side of God’s nature is explained in Exodus 34:6-7, where we read that God only holds the sinner guilty, not his family.   He forgives sin.

This word was understood by Bible writers to mean “covenant love;” that God is faithful to keep His promise to love us, even when we are unfaithful to our promise to love Him.  GRACE, MERCY, and LOVE have a lot of overlap in Paul’s writings.  There’s no need to create strong differentiations between the three words.  As we saw in chapter one, this passage also underscores the fact that God took the initiative to save us even though we are completely unworthy (see Titus 3:5).

God showered us with GRACE that HE MIGHT SHOW THE INCOMPARABLE RICHES OF HIS GRACE…IN CHRIST JESUS. (7)  God’s purpose is always to draw us to Him.  When the Bible talks about God’s “glory,” that’s what it means.  God’s GRACE brings glory to Him because He is so generous with forgiveness.  His act of creating t human race and then saving us from ourselves is to resound throughout eternity as the greatest deed ever.

God offers GRACE to complete our original purpose: we were CREATED TO DO GOOD WORKS. (10)  GOOD WORKS are not a means to salvation, but a product of salvation, a means of deepening our spiritual maturity, and a proof that our claims to salvation are genuine.  When we do the GOOD WORKS we were created to do, it is for God’s glory and our pleasure.  GOOD WORKS bless everyone!

The third and final question Paul answered in this passage is “How did God do this for us?” Paul’s answer was two-fold.

First, God saved us by His gracious offer of salvation: BY GRACE YOU’VE BEEN SAVED. (5+8)  God deserves to be the focus of our lives, the object of our gratitude because He saved us by His grace, not our merit.  Paul wrote this twice (in verses five and eight) to make sure we don’t miss this essential truth.  GRACE means we are spared the WRATH of God (3) because God has guaranteed our salvation.  Neither this day nor Judgment Day holds any fear for us.

In verse eight Paul provided a little more explanation; God’s GRACE is ours BY FAITH.  Having FAITH does not make us any more deserving; it is the sole means by which we can be saved.  By FAITH we believe GRACE is available and receive it ourselves.  IT IS NOT OF YOURSELVES; IT IS THE GIFT OF GOD can refer either to GRACE or FAITH or both.  Which is interesting; we can’t really even have faith on our own; God supplies that too!

Second, GRACE is God doing for us what is impossible for us to do for ourselves (8-9).  Saving ourselves is not even a possibility: that’s what the phrases THIS IS NOT FROM YOURSELVES…NOT BY WORKS mean.

– Good WORKS won’t save us.

– Keeping God’s law won’t earn eternal life for us.

– Attempting to manipulate spirits by practicing magic (as the pagans of Ephesus did) won’t accomplish a single thing.

– Positive thinking and impulse control have value in this life, but are powerless to save us.

Why is it important for us to recognize that salvation is purely God’s action?  SO THAT NO ONE CAN BOAST means that no one should think they’ve earned or somehow deserve God’s grace or are in any way deserving.  That would be a fatal error, the worst kind of self-deception possible.  To think we can gain heaven on our own two feet would be to deny our need for a Savior and thereby cheat ourselves out of salvation by not seeking and finding true faith.  FAITH gives credit where it’s due and relies on God’s power, not ours.

Sin is the cause of the “Walking Dead,” God raises the dead to receive salvation and life.

God saves us from enslavement to the “Killer S’s” of sin, Satan, and self.  He does this in order to grant us true freedom to live in love; this is true life.  We must acknowledge the truth in order to live and to help others find life.  Part of that truth is that we were in a trap and had no way out that we could employ as an exit.  Jesus is God’s means of leaving the trap and living.

Paul’s message must’ve seemed strange to the people of Ephesus.  They were used to thinking of gods and spirits as beings whom you appeased to avoid their wrath or bribed with sacrifices to manipulate them into giving blessing.  As Paul presented Him, God did not operate in either of those ways.  People today are still surprised to find that God is not what they expected.  Too many reject a caricature of God without having any experience of Him or even of His Church.

Paul taught that sacrifice and praise were grateful responses to God’s prior acts of love and gracious gift of salvation.  His faith is not a “pull yourself up by your bootstraps” kind of exercise, but the humble acceptance of a generous gift.  Once accepted, that gift makes all the difference in the way we want to live.

God offers life.  Choose to accept it and celebrate it by doing good.  Let’s be the lively people of God, not the “walking dead.”

 

RESOURCES:

Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament: Ephesians, Clinton E. Arnold

Arguments and Miracles

Please read Acts 19:8-12 in your Bible of choice.  I chose the NIV (1984) to prepare these remarks.

Using a variety of approaches – from arguments to miracles – we must share the Gospel of salvation.

Even though a majority of Americans claim to believe God exists and claim to be “spiritual,” the numbers of those who believe in supernatural things like heaven, hell, and miracles have been in decline.  This is an illogical position to take, but accurately reflects the belief that religion is self-made.  It is illogical to believe in God and yet maintain the idea that His actions in this world are always along ordinary, natural lines.

Ask somebody if they believe in miracles and you will get an answer along these lines.

– An intellectual response: “No, I only believe in things I can perceive with my five senses.  As miracles claim to violate the laws of nature, I don’t believe in them.  I believe in science.”

– An emotional response: “I totally believe in miracles and they happen every day.  Just being alive is a miracle!”

Neither of those persons believes in miracles. I want to encourage a biblical response instead: “The Bible says that God did things outside the so-called ‘laws’ of nature.  These things happened to give glory to God and to give people more reason to believe.”

We will continue our study of the ancient church in the city of Ephesus by looking at how God used ordinary teaching and extraordinary miracles to get the Gospel of Jesus to Asia Minor.  What we can learn from this passage is that we must rely on God to use us and a variety of means to get the Word out to Sioux Falls.  The Word of God will change lives and renew our fellowship!  God has not limited this experience to ancient Ephesus: it can be true in our place and time as well.

  1. Paul argued with the obstinate.

Paul’s typical strategy was to begin in the local synagogue (8+9).  Paul was the “Apostle to the Gentiles,” but he still chose to reach out to the Jewish community in each city where he founded churches (see Romans 1:16; 2:9-10).  We’re told several things about Paul’s ministry in the synagogue.

– He spoke BOLDLY, “freely” or “openly.”  Paul was there to give them the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

– He argued PERSUASIVELY.  Paul was not a people-pleaser: he worked toward convincing the listener to repent.

– Paul’s subject matter was THE KINGDOM OF GOD, announcing – as Jesus did – that the KOG was “at hand” (see Matthew 4:17).

– This lasted THREE MONTHS.  Lasting that long indicates some level of acceptance at the beginning, but not much patience.

The synagogue time came to an end when the “religious people” in the synagogue opposed Paul.  This was not a mild kind of opposition.  The text explains; SOME BECAME OBSTINATE.  That word literally meant “hardened.”  The fault for their refusal to believe did not lie with God or with Paul; it was all on them.

So THEY REFUSED TO BELIEVE.  They would not accept the reality that the Kingdom of God had come; that Jesus was the Messiah.  And worse, they PUBLICLY MALIGNED THE WAY.  In Acts, those who opposed the Church invented slanderous lies and used them in an attempt to stir up public opinion against the disciples of Jesus.  This name for the Church – THE WAY – sounds unfamiliar to most of us.  It was a name once used to refer to the followers of Jesus, possibly based on John 14:6, where Jesus proclaimed Himself to be “THE WAY, THE TRUTH, AND THE LIFE.”

Meeting opposition, Paul changed venues and continued bringing the word (9-10).  Instead of the synagogue, he used the LECTURE HALL of TYRANNUS.  The Greek word for LECTURE HALL meant “school,” a refuge of sorts for philosophers to address one another and crowds of interested listeners.  We’ve no other biblical info on TYRANNUS, but evidence has been found proving he lived in Ephesus at that time.

Verse ten mentions both Jews and Greeks heard the word, so we can assume the LECTURE HALL proved to be a more public forum than the SYNAGOGUE had been.  What the enemies of the Church intended to be a roadblock instead paved the way for greater exposure.

Luke is careful to assure the reader that Paul TOOK THE DISCIPLES WITH HIM.  It is reasonable to assume this group included both Jewish and Gentile converts; the people who had accepted Paul’s teaching as true.

He held DAILY DISCUSSIONS.  One of the things that marked first century churches was their DAILY meetings.  They also enjoyed unrivaled success in bringing people to Jesus.  A coincidence?

The Greek word for DISCUSSIONS is the basis for our word “dialogue.”  However, this Gk word included both lecture and conversation-based teaching methods.  The means of teaching isn’t nearly as important as the object of teaching: God Himself.

Paul used the LECTURE HALL for TWO YEARS (10).  One indication of “success” at that location was both Jews & Greeks HEARD THE WORD.  Nowhere is the number of converts mentioned.  This implies “Success” can be measured in faithfulness, leaving fruitfulness up to God (as in 1 Corinthians 3:5-8).

Another indication of success in verse ten is that the ministry at Ephesus facilitated the spread of the WORD OF THE LORD all over Asia Minor, reaching both Jews and Greeks.  Having a two and a half-year stay and reaching an entire region was a great success!

  1. God used Paul to do miraculous healings.

The line of agency could not be clearer than Luke drew it in verse eleven: GOD DID EXTRAORDINARY MIRACLES THROUGH PAUL.  When these miracles were accomplished, they might’ve been misunderstood as having been powered by Paul or by special magical items.  These miracles consisted of healing from illness and deliverance from demons.  The people of Ephesus were superstitious and might have misunderstood Paul as being a magician.  Luke made it clear that God healed and delivered those people: Paul was merely the man through which the miracles happened.

To counter this, ordinary items were endowed with healing power.  The only thing different was that had come into contact with Paul.  They were not specially-made magic items; there was nothing special about the item itself.  The point here is that the real power came from God.

The word for HANDKERCHIEF is borrowed from Latin and refers to a cloth used to wipe perspiration from a laborer’s brow.  The word for APRONS is also Latin and refers to protective cloths worn by workers and also scraps of cloth used as rags.  The power was not resident in the cloth, nor did it come from Paul; all of it was means God used to display His power.

There are parallels elsewhere in the writings of Luke; in Luke 6:18-19, Jesus healed people without touching them at all.  In Acts 5:12, 15-16, people were healed when Peter’s shadow fell on them.  In the Bible, supernatural healings happened in just about every way you can imagine, with very few of the accounts agreeing in the details.  The emphasis is never on how the healing occurred, but on who did the healing; God was the One who did the healing.

One of God’s purposes in the Spiritual Gift of Miracles is to validate the ministry of someone claiming to speak in His name.  While Luke doesn’t use this account to prove that point, there’s no doubt that reports of miraculous healings created additional interest in a magic-obsessed community and gave Paul’s message added authenticity.

The result expressed in verses ten and twenty was that the WORD OF THE LORD – the history and teachings of Jesus – became more widely known, more widely accepted, and grew in the power of influence.

Using a variety of approaches – from arguments to miracles – we must share the Gospel of salvation.

One reason people might be reluctant to believe in miracles is they don’t want to be deceived.  Since the word was invented, claims of miracles and particularly miraculous healings have been used to trick people.  Take this story from Jokes4us.com, for example:

A Rabbi and a Priest get into a car accident and it’s a bad one. Both cars are totally demolished, but, amazingly, neither of the clerics is hurt. After they crawl out of their cars, the rabbi sees the priest’s collar and says, “So you’re a priest. I’m a rabbi. Just look at our cars. There’s nothing left, but we are unhurt. This must be a sign from God. God must have meant that we should meet and be friends and live together in peace the rest of our days.”

The Priest replies, “I agree with you completely. This must be a sign from God.”

The Rabbi continues, “And look at this. Here’s another miracle. My car is completely demolished but this bottle of wine didn’t break. Surely God wants us to drink this wine and celebrate our good fortune.”

Then he hands the bottle to the priest. The priest agrees, takes a few big swigs, and hands the bottle back to the rabbi. The rabbi takes the bottle, immediately puts the cap on, and hands it back to the priest.

The Priest asks, “Aren’t you having any?”

“No… I’ll wait for the police.”

http://www.jokes4us.com/religiousjokes/carcrashmiraclejoke.html

Paul made it his aim to declare the truth as persuasively as possible, but without manipulating either the Gospel or the people hearing it.  He did not want anyone’s response to the truth to be based on human salesmanship or anything less powerful than the Holy Spirit.

That should be our desire as well.  We need to adopt Paul’s motto in 1CT 9:22 = I HAVE BECOME ALL THINGS TO ALL MEN SO THAT BY ALL POSSIBLE MEANS I MIGHT SAVE SOME.  May we have that heartfelt desire to tell others about Jesus and may we act upon it with the same integrity.

RESOURCES:

O         Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary on Acts, J.

Bradley Chance.

O         Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New

            Testament: Acts, Eckhard J. Schnabel

Continuous Thanks

Take a moment to read Ephesians 1:15-23 in your Bible translation of choice, then peruse the following as an informed reader.  I used the NIV (1984) to prepare my remarks.

thanks

Knowing Jesus Christ is the first step in being an object (and practitioner!) of continual thanksgiving.

Ten years ago, Robynne Boyd wrote an article for Scientific American magazine entitled “Do People Only Use 10 Percent of Their Brains?”  She attempted to refute a widely-accepted modern myth that even the smartest human beings only use 10% of their brain’s potential.

She quoted neurologist Barry Gordon at Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore who said, “It turns out though, that we use virtually every part of the brain, and that [most of] the brain is active almost all the time.  Let’s put it this way: the brain represents three percent of the body’s weight and uses 20 percent of the body’s energy.”

Boyd added; “Although it’s true that at any given moment all of the brain’s regions are not concurrently firing, brain researchers using imaging technology have shown that, like the body’s muscles, most [of the brain’s regions] are continually active over a 24-hour period.

She also quoted John Henley, a neurologist at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, MN as saying, “Evidence would show over a day you use 100 percent of the brain.”

https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/do-people-only-use-10-percent-of-their-brains/

Don’t you feel better about yourself already?  We’re all more brainy than the “Ten Percent Myth” gave us credit for being.

While we’re in a myth-busting mood, let’s tackle another.  There’s a belief among church people that is said in a couple different ways: either “Church is as good as it gets,” or “Church will never be as good as it was.”  That’s a myth.

Look around for a moment and thank God for all He’s given us.  But don’t think for a moment that it’s as good as it can be.  Don’t think that in some “good old days” the church was just as good as it could be.

The truth is that our experience of what the Church is supposed to be like is only 10% or less of the rich grace and power God has given us.  Paul wrote to the church in Ephesus and said virtually the same thing.  We’ll see how Paul praised them for what they had achieved and then pointed out how much more was available, just waiting for them to claim it by faith.

  1. Paul’s perpetual praise.

Paul began, FOR THIS REASON in verse fifteen.  For what reason?  For all the things God has done for us.  Here we review the blessings God bestowed as Paul listed them in Ephesians 1:3-14:

– The heading is this: God has blessed you with EVERY SPIRITUAL BLESSING (3).

– The first item on the list: God chose you (4 + 11).

– The second item: God predestined you (4-6 + 11).

– Third: God redeemed you (7-8, 14).

– Fourth: God revealed His plan to you (9-11).

– The conclusion: God sealed these blessings with the Holy Spirit (11-14).

Looking back on that list, Paul was mindful of what God did for the church and through the church, (in its local & global manifestations).  Similar to the outpouring of praise in that section, in this section, Paul wrote a sentence of thanksgiving 169 words long.

He started with the words, EVER SINCE I HEARD ABOUT YOUR FAITH.  This  means Paul had received a report of their spiritual maturity and it pleased him so much, he continued to thank God for the Ephesians.  This happened frequently in Paul’s letters; seven of them begin this way.

Here in Ephesians, he cited two specific thanksgivings.  First, Paul was thankful for their FAITH IN THE LORD JESUS (15).  They demonstrated belief in the Lord and faithful acceptance of all His blessings and teachings.

He was also grateful for their LOVE FOR ALL THE SAINTS (15).  By Scripture and experience we know FAITH and LOVE become real as they are manifest in good works.  The SAINTS refers to other believers.  The Bible affirms that “Charity begins at our church home.”

This good news prompted perpetual praise in Paul and since then, he wrote, I HAVE NOT STOPPED GIVING THANKS FOR YOU (16).

  1. Paul’s perpetual prayer.

REMEMBERING YOU IN MY PRAYERS (16).  This is a summary of the things for which Paul prayed when his prayers centered on the church in Ephesus.

Prayer Request Number One = for them to know God better (17).  Knowing God better requires learning at least two things, as Paul elaborated.  First, we must know GOD OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST (God the Father).  As we learned in our study of 1:1-14, Jesus Christ is the most important person in the plan of God.  God the Father is able to provide us with salvation because God the Son was obedient, even to death on a cross (see Philippians 2:8).

Second, we must know that God deserves to be glorified (THE GLORIOUS FATHER, v. 17).  Part of the glory of God the Father is the salvation He has created for His people.  The Resurrection of Jesus is the supreme moment of God’s glory.

We come to know these things by means of the gift of the SPIRIT.  The channels for the Spirit’s work in us are WISDOM and REVELATION (see Colossians 1:9).  By WISDOM it is meant, as we frequently observe, the FEAR OF THE LORD IS THE BEGINNING OF WISDOM (see Psalms 111:10).  True WISDOM comes from God and is a Spiritual Gift.

REVELATION is similar to the MYSTERY of 1:9 in the sense that God has, through the Holy Spirit, revealed His plan of salvation.  God’s chief means of revelation is the Bible.

Prayer Request Number Two = Enlightenment (18).  Paul prayed enlightenment might come to the Ephesian believers through the EYES OF YOUR HEART.  If that expression sounds confusing in English, you may be glad to know it’s even more confused in original language (Greek).  Regardless of how we sort out the words, the important thing is the purpose of this enlightenment: it was needed in order to know (be assured) of three things:

Assurance Number One = THE HOPE TO WHICH HE HAS CALLED YOU.  God calls His people to a hopeful view of the future, one that puts Jesus Christ at the center of the new creation.  HOPE is a key part of our faith.  Today’s woes are reduced when we look past them to tomorrow’s blessings.  HOPE is not wishing; it is a settled conviction that everything God promises will happen.  It is an anchor for the soul according to Hebrews 6:19.

Assurance Number Two = THE RICHES OF HIS GLORIOUS INHERITANCE IN THE SAINTS which is, surprisingly, about God, not us.  The words RICHES and GLORIOUS are frequently used to describe the majesty of earthly kings (like Hezekiah; 2 Chronicles 37:27.  Note this is INHERITANCE IN THE SAINTS, not “for” THE SAINTS.  Frequently in the OT, the people of God are referred to as His “inheritance.”  Paul wanted the Ephesians to think of themselves in this way.  We must as well.  We are God’s prized possession.

Assurance Number Three = HIS INCOMPARABLY GREAT POWER AT FOR US WHO BELIEVE.  The people of Ephesus were notorious for being involved in the occult.  This is why they would be concerned with knowing God’s power, particularly that He is more powerful than their false gods & spirits.

In fact, the two can’t be compared at all; God’s POWER is INCOMPARABLY greater than anything manifest in idols (see 2:7; 3:20).  The Greek word translated into English as INCOMPARABLY was used in a number of ancient inscriptions and documents that have been discovered in Ephesus.  Paul was using the words of the false teachers and magic-users to contradict them!

Prayer Request Number Three = to experience God’s power (19-20).  It is good thing to acknowledge God’s POWER; it’s something more to experience it personally.  God’s power IS LIKE THE WORKING OF HIS MIGHTY STRENGTH (19).

The Greek word for WORKING describes POWER being wielded; God’s power being used to benefit His people as opposed to potential power.  It describes activity and function, more than explain the source of power.

The three Greek words for POWER, might, & STRENGTH occur all together in only one other place in all of ancient literature; a Jewish text that reads more like a magical spell than a prayer.  That text commanded angels to supply victory in all their endeavors.  Paul did not endorse casting spells, prayer to angels or any nonsense like that.  He put the power of God on a higher plane.  God’s power was at its height in Jesus.  Paul wrote of two specific times in v. 20.

The first instance in which God’s power was particularly evident was at Jesus’ Resurrection: WHEN HE RAISED HIM FROM THE DEAD.  The physical resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the first and most central doctrine in the Christian faith.  Paul wrote to the Corinthians and said that if there is no Resurrection, our faith is FUTILE and we are still dead in our SINS (1 Corinthians 15:17).

The second instance was at Jesus’ Ascension: WHEN…HE SEATED HIM AT HIS RIGHT HAND I/T HEAVENLY REALMS (see Acts 1:1-11).  The right hand of the king was always the place occupied by the second most powerful person in the kingdom.  Historically, this was Jesus being glorified to the ultimate degree after He humbled Himself to the ultimate degree; death on a cross.

Prayer Request Number Four = To know Jesus’ preeminent place (21-22).  God the Father revealed through Paul that God the Son is FAR ABOVE ALL RULE AND AUTHORITY, POWER AND DOMINION (21).  Paul is saying that Jesus place is superior to all His enemies combined.  Put all the earthly and demonic powers together; they still can’t compare with Jesus’ power and authority.  These terms were familiar to Paul’s Jewish readers as the Jews used them to distinguish between good and evil angels.  These terms were also familiar to Paul’s Gentile readers as they were used for spiritual powers in magical texts of the day.

Another expression of Jesus’ preeminent place is, FAR ABOVE…EVERY TITLE THAT CAN BE GIVEN NOT ONLY IN THE PRESENT AGE BUT ALSO IN THE ONE TO COME (21).  Paul is saying there are absolutely no exceptions.  There’s nothing in the physical or spiritual worlds that is not under Jesus’ authority.  People who put stock in magic (like the Ephesians) believed that if you could name something you have power over it, so the TITLE/name is important.

Continuing on this theme, Paul wrote that GOD PLACED ALL THINGS UNDER HIS FEET (22).  This promise is declared in PSS 8:6 + 110:1.  It will be fulfilled on the occasion of the Second Coming.  Paul made the same point several ways: Jesus is in charge!

Jesus is preeminent because GOD…APPOINTED HIM TO BE THE HEAD OVER EVERYTHING (22).  In Paul’s day, this word HEAD meant “origin;” the HEAD produced the body.  As it does in our own time, HEAD also referred to the leader or ruler of a group.  In both uses of the term, Jesus is the HEAD of His BODY, the Church: our origin & our leader.

Prayer Request Number Five = To know the Church’s place in relationship with Jesus Christ (22-23).  The four-fold description of Jesus’ preeminent place in vs. 21-22 has an expressed purpose: FOR THE CHURCH. (This is a measure of God’s grace; we who deserve it the least benefit the most.)

Paul developed this relationship in his two-fold description of the Church.

First, the BODY to Christ’s HEAD.  Paul used this metaphor in four of his letters (Romans, 1 Corinthians, Colossians, and Ephesians).  The diversity of the parts (individual believers) is joined together in service to the one HEAD.

Second, Jesus is THE FULLNESS OF HIM WHO FILLS EVERYTHING IN EVERY WAY (23) and the Church is supposed to be THE FULLNESS of Christ.  When people see us, they’re supposed to see Jesus in the FULLNESS of who He is!

Knowing Jesus Christ is the first step in being an object (and practitioner!) of continual thanksgiving.

Wouldn’t it feel great to have someone address you with the praise and thanksgiving the Apostle Paul expressed in this letter?  Let’s summarize and review Paul’s prayer for the church in Ephesus so we can use it to pray for each other.

#1 = Pray we will become more aware of the power God makes available to us.  This will not happen only or chiefly in Bible study, but is something we learn and appreciate by personal experience.  Until we embrace change and take risks to attempt things only God can do, we will not see His power; we will only be certain about our limitations.  This is why so many church folk get weary and depressed, losing confidence in the future of the Church.

#2 – Pray we will stand in His strength alone.  The culture is becoming more hostile to Christianity.  Elements of our culture are trying to squeeze everyone into their mold, preaching the new orthodoxy of “political correctness.”  They more we resist that squeezing, the more we will need God’s power to stay faithful.

#3 – Pray we will partner with God and with each other to remain in Christ.  Jesus is the fixed point of all creation.  We identify with Him and hold that His resurrection is the source from which all life worth living flows.  Our hope is not founded on our own cleverness or repeating the apparent success of past generations.  Instead, our hope is in Jesus Christ.  We look ahead to see Him waiting for us at the finish line of history.

These truths are the most real thing in all the world.  God forgive us when we live our daily lives as if they don’t matter or aren’t real at all.  By prayer and practice, they become a greater part of how we live.

 

RESOURCES:

Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, Clinton E. Arnold

Eating Salad at the Steak Buffet

buffetPlease read Acts 19:1-7 in your Bible.  For myself, I used the NIV (1984) to research these remarks.

Don’t settle for a lesser portion; sweat your comfort zone and allow God to do immeasurably more.

Here we find the beginning of Paul’s ministry in Ephesus.  He left his home town of Antioch, crossed Asia Minor, encouraging the churches along the way.  This was what we call “Paul’s Third Missionary Journey.”  Some time previous to this, Paul had briefly visited the city and left two of his associates, Aquila and Priscilla there, to continue the work he started (18:19).  In 18:21 he vowed to return if that was God’s will.  While Paul was away from Ephesus, Aquila and Priscilla had an encounter with Apollos, a man who KNEW ONLY THE BAPTISM OF JOHN (18:26).  This was a similar encounter, but we have no evidence Apollos was connected with this group.

Paul operated on the Jeremiah 29:7 principle; seek the welfare of the city and your own welfare will follow.  Ephesus was a city that knew a lot of material prosperity, so the “welfare” sought here was of a spiritual nature.  We’ve already noted it was a gateway city, merging land and sea trade routes.  It was also the city where the local Roman governor of Asia held court.  One example of the wealth of Ephesus is the 25,000 seat theater that also hosted the Pan-Ionian Games, a version of the Olympics.

The people of Ephesus were notorious for their superstition, idolatry, and worldly philosophy.  The use of magic items and oaths was particularly widespread.

The route Paul took from Antioch to Ephesus (v. 1) was not the standard trade route along the coast, but went through the middle of the region.  Though the text does not state this, but the choice of route implies that Paul was in a hurry to get back to Ephesus.

Upon arriving, Paul was introduced to twelve DISCIPLES.  Unfortunately, their discipleship only got as far as the baptism of John.  They had no knowledge of Jesus Christ, as demonstrated in the fact that they knew nothing about the Holy Spirit.

God put them in the path of the Apostle Paul.  He knew something was amiss and he knew just the right questions to ask to identify the problem of their incomplete faith.

  1. The problem: an incomplete faith.

Luke identifies the people Paul encountered as DISCIPLES (1).  Luke normally used the word DISCIPLES to refer to Christians unless some qualifier is added (i.e., “disciples of John” in LKE 5:33; 7:18.)  He also informs us at the end of the passage that there was ABOUT TWELVE MEN IN ALL.  Some take the number twelve to be symbolic of the 12 tribes of Israel, a hint that these men were Jewish.  That may be, but Luke never seems to be shy about identifying Jews as such, especially when they are being antagonistic to the Church.

You can have a pretty active discussion of whether these men were Christians or not.  The good news is, the narrative doesn’t depend on a definitive answer.  The point is that their faith – however far it went – was not complete; Paul helped them to find complete faith.  They are ready symbols of all of us who haven’t quite understood or haven’t yet really committed ourselves to Jesus

We’re not told how they met or why Paul asked if they’d received the Holy Spirit when they believed (2).  Happily, the “how” of this event is not what’s important; otherwise we’d have been given more information.  What is important is upon meeting these DISCIPLES, Paul knew immediately there was something wrong.

He needed more information, so he asked, “DID YOU RECEIVE THE HOLY SPIRIT WHEN YOU BELIEVED?”  The fact that Paul had to ask implies that these twelve men “talked the talk,” but didn’t “walk the walk.”  There was something lacking in their spirit/character/testimony.

That “something” was the Gifts of the Spirit and the Fruits of the Spirit, which God gives to His followers as proof of their faith (Ephesians 1:13-14).  When these supernatural abilities and character qualities are found in a person, they prove to ourselves and to others that we are in Christ.  It was the absence of these things to which Paul was reacting.

The twelve answered Paul in innocent ignorance: “NO, WE HAVE NOT EVEN HEARD THAT THERE IS A HOLY SPIRIT,” (2).  In verse three we find out they had been baptized by John, but he hadn’t taught them everything.  John the Baptist did speak about the Holy Spirit (see LKE 3:16), but only in relation to the Messiah.

To be fair, that was not his role: JTB’s job was to announce the Messiah’s coming.  His ministry was prepatory.  When the Messiah came, his work was over.  John said himself in relation to the messiah, “I must decrease, He must increase,” (John 3:30).  That is what happened; shortly after Jesus began His ministry John was imprisoned and then beheaded for his opposition to the king’s having married his brother’s wife.  While the Gospels portray John the Baptist as living a rather solitary life in the Judean wilderness (Matthew 3:1-6), he also had disciples of his own (Matthew 9:14; 14:12; Luke 5:33; 10:41; John 3:25).

Paul taught them the whole truth (3-4).  To do this, Paul needed to ask a second question, going back a bit further; “THEN WHAT BAPTISM DID YOU RECEIVE?”  (He clearly assumes they had some baptism?)

They replied that they had been baptized by John the Baptist.  We can presume that after their baptism, these men left the region of Judea and were not at hand to see Jesus’ baptism by John or any other part of the ministry, death & resurrection of Jesus Christ.

As Paul explained to them, John the Baptist’s baptism was good for its situation, but his ministry was supplanted by Jesus’ ministry.  John’s baptism was for REPENTANCE from sins (Matthew 3:6).  It was not, as we are used to it, for conversion to a new faith or membership in a church/synagogue/group.  The Bible does not tell us the words John the Baptist used when he baptized someone, but we can safely assume he did not baptize INTO THE NAME OF JESUS when these 12 guys were there, as this was something Paul’s group did for them.

  1. The solution: be obedient and go all the way with God.

These DISCIPLES responded in obedience and received a new baptism (5). Their new baptism was better because it was IN THE NAME OF THE LORD JESUS. This is not a matter of using the right words; it’s deeper than that.  To do anything IN THE NAME of JESUS is to do it in His spirit, following His teaching, honoring His name, exercising His power, under His authority, and at His direction.

In the history of the Church, people have got wound up about which words you say when you baptize people.  To me, they missed the point.  The point is about genuinely being in Jesus Christ in all the ways I just mentioned.  Anything else is just not real.

These 12 DISCIPLES can represent people who are sincere and yet are not fully in Christ.  They made a good response to the truth they’ve known, but they don’t know the whole truth.  This fact would cause insecurity if not for the Gifts and Fruits of the Spirit being objective evidence.  The presence of the Holy Spirit gives us assurance that we are truly saved or brings accusation if the Spirit is absent.

Their baptism was needed and was important.  However, it was not by their baptism, but by Paul LAYING his HANDS on them that the twelve received the Holy Spirit, as indicated by the Spiritual Gifts of Speaking in Tongues and Prophesy.  In Acts, these are the first and second most frequent Gifts that accompany salvation.

The Laying on of Hands is a frequently mentioned ritual act with different uses; in every case, it was to be taken seriously (1 Timothy 5:22; Hebrews 6:2).  Biblical uses of this ritualistic gesture include:

– Consecrating offerings (Leviticus 1:4; 3:2; 4:15; 16:21) or items (Numbers 8:10 27:18; Deuteronomy 34:9).

– Miraculous healing (Mark 6:5; 7:31-36; 16:18; Luke 4:40; 13:13; 28:8).

– Granting blessings (Genesis 48:14; Matthew 19:15; Mark 10:16).

– Granting authority, power, or installing officers (i.e., ordination; Acts 6:6; 1 Timothy 4:14; 2 Timothy 1:6).

Prayer is sometimes given in conjunction with laying on of hands, but is not considered a single activity.

The Gift of Speaking in Tongues is the miraculous use of a language the speaker does not normally possess (ex., Acts 2, 10, + 19).  The NT recognizes two ways in which this Gift is exercised: publicly & privately.

– Publicly: when it occurs in worship, a second Spiritual Gift, Interpretation of Tongues, must be exercised to translate the utterance or the speaker is required to stop speaking.

– Privately, it can be used without a translator because it is an offering to God in prayer.  In this case, it expresses the heart of the worshiper without using any familiar language.

Especially in worship and other public contexts, Paul vastly preferred readily known speech to unknown speech (see 1 Corinthians 14:19).

The Gift of Prophesy likewise comes in two forms; foretelling and forth-telling (ex., Acts 19 and possibly ch. 8).

– Foretelling is miraculous communication of new things that are going to happen, given in advance of their occurring; communicating what God WILL do. The test here is whether they come true or not.

– Forth-telling builds on what God has already revealed but applies it with authority to a specific situation; communicating what God wants people to do.

A mistake some people make in applying this passage (and similar ones) is to say this one unique situation is supposed to be everyone’s experience: they apply it too broadly and too specifically.  By “too broadly” I mean that they don’t recognize the difference between descriptive and prescriptive. Without complicating matters, there are two types of Bible passages and they need to be interpreted differently.

– Descriptive passages narrate historical events.  In addition to the information they contain, narratives can be used to set examples to be followed or avoided.  Just because something happened once or twice in the Bible, it doesn’t by itself mean it should always happen that way.  The narratives do not fit a consistent pattern, except to say that the exceptions are the rule.

– Prescriptive passages that teach truths and give instructions.  God is communicating truth that prescribes righteous behavior and true hearts.  They can be used by literal application of the words expression truth propositionally.

By “too specifically” I mean that Tongues and Prophecy are only two of about 20 Spiritual Gifts.  (As an alternative example, in Galatians 3:5 Paul wrote that working MIRACLES accompanied the Spirit’s coming to that church, not Prophecy or Tongues.)  All Spiritual Gifts are signs of real faith.  Along with the Fruits of the Spirit, they are ways that a real faith works out through our skin into words and deeds we can observe in daily living.

Let me explain the title of this message.  One strategy for getting a reduced cost lunch is to invite your vegetarian friends to the steak house.  “Eating Salad at the Steak Buffet” means you split the ticket evenly.  In that case, the steak-eater literally eats the lunch of the salad-eaters!

I’m teasing my vegan and vegetarian friend a bit.  But seriously, it makes no sense to settle for a little portion of what God offers us.  As we learned last week from Ephesians 1, God’s GRACE is RICH and He lavishes it on us generously.  Why settle for less?

One reason people settle for less of God or even nothing at all is that we somehow know that life will not be the same after we say “yes” to God.  We are not willing to puncture our comfort zone and thereby say “no” to God.  Even if it’s a polite “No thank you,” saying “no” to God is wrong.

However we explain a decision to settle for less, we must take courage and receive all God offers.  We must not settle for a faith tamed by science, secular culture, or selfishness.  To enjoy the view we must brave the heights.  Let’s have an adventure of faith by releasing the weights that hold us down: THEREFORE, SINCE WE ARE SURROUNDED BY SUCH A GREAT CLOUD OF WITNESSES, LET US THROW OFF EVRYTHING THAT HINDERS AND THE SIN THAT SO EASILY ENTANGLES, AND LET US RUN WITH PERSEVERANCE THE RACE MARKED OUT FOR US (Hebrews 12:1).

Don’t settle for a lesser portion; sweat your comfort zone and allow God to do immeasurably more.

 

RESOURCES:

O         Smyth & Helwys Bible Commentary on Acts, J. Bradley Chance.

O         More Hard Sayings of the New Testament, Peter H. Davids.

O         Illustrated Davis Dictionary of the Bible.

O         The Communicator’s Commentary, Lloyd J. Ogilive.